By Adam Keller & Beate Zilversmidt of the Israeli Peace Bloc, firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: A hundred Israeli peace activists tried to pay a solidarity visit to the Al- Khader residents whose lands were chosen for yet another settlement outpost. The peace seekers, among them former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, were stopped at the branch road leading to Al Khader. The area was declared "closed military zone". When it became clear that it was closed only to peace activists but settlers were allowed to pass, the demonstrators sat down to block their passage. They were forcibly dispersed and six were detained and taken to the police station at the Efrat settlement. A simultaneous demonstration of the Al- Khader people themselves was dispersed with live bullets, leaving four wounded - one in serious condition.
Background: Al Khader today: the true face of the occupation in a nutshell. Illegal new settlements ("outposts") are being established on newly-seized parcels of Palestinian land, without the flimsiest pretence of legality. Rather then stop those who rob land in broad daylight, the army and police move to provide them full protection, and no effort whatsoever is made to prevent the settler movement from bringing in mobile homes to make life more convenient for their "Hilltop Generation." The full power of the forces of "Law and Order", or what passes for such on the Wild West bank, is turned on the legal landowners, should they try to make any protest, and also on Israelis who seek to protest the injustice.
It has been going on for years, all over the Occupied Territories - almost regardless of the party and PM in power, or of whether the Peace Process was declared to be thriving or moribund. And once seized, a parcel of land was almost never relinquished by the settlers. One of the few exceptions is a hilltop at the southern end of El-Khader village, Bethlehem District. In 1995 it was seized by the settlers of Efrat - a large, fast-expanding settlement which is slowly but steadily eating away the agricultural lands of those forced to become its neighbors. A joint struggle of the El-Khader villagers and Gush Shalom activists culminated with an exceptional decision by the Rabin Government to remove the invading settlers.
But a month ago, the Efrat settlers came back, seizing again the same hilltop and placing three mobile homes on the top. Ever since then, El-Khader was the scene of ongoing struggle, with joint Israeli-Palestinian non-violent acts of protest and resistance being answered by the army and police with a more and more harsh approach - as you may remember from previous messages.
Today, several dozen Israelis set out from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem for El-Khader - the fourth consecutive Friday to see such a protest (and there were some also on other days of the week). The Gush Shalom contingent, headed by former Knesset Member Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom , joined with Gila Svirsky of the Women for a Just Peace and with the fiery young Israelis and Internationals organized by "International Solidarity". Together we travelled the notorious "Tunnel Road": a road in the midst of Palestinian territory which is reserved for the exclusive use of Israelis, and which was the scene of countless violent incidents in the past months - though none occured during our passage this morning. But the branching road towards El-Khader, through which we had gone on some previous occasions, was now full of soldiers and police. A police officer, stepping into the bus, presented a piece of paper: El-Khader has been declared "a closed military zone".
"A closed military zone" in occupied territory is a very flexible thing. It is any piece of land, small or big, which an offcier at the rank of colonel or higher deems to be such. It is closed to those persons which said officer wants to keep out, but open to those he welcomes in. In this particular case, the buses loaded with peace-minded Israelis were ordered to curb, while settler cars were merrily waved on into the "closed" zone.
There are some routines followed in such cases. Activists streamed out, took position facing the soldiers and police, spreading out signs and banners. "Down with the occupation!"- "Dismantle all settlements!" - "There is a solution: Get out of the Territories!". One activist had the foresight to bring along a stack of Yesh Gvul brochures, pointing out which acts by a soldier are in contravention of International law and may lead to prosecution for war crimes, and distributed them to the soldiers.
Meanwhile, the organizers dickered with the officer in command. They reminded him of Defence Minister Ben Eliezer's solemn public pledge, just three days ago, to remove all illegal settlement outposts including the one established on the El-Khader lands. But news of the minister's declared new policy did not seem to have percolated to this level of the hierarchy. (Not that we really expected anything else).
It was pointed out to the army that our aim was entirely non-violent: to join with the inhabitants of El-Khader in erecting a large tent on the villagers' own land, to serve as "A Peace Outpost" of Israelis and Palestinians together. After all, if nationalist settlers could establish their own completely illegal outpost without interference from the army, surely the same courtesy could be extended to the legal owners of the land and to the guests officially invited by them? No, it was absolutely out of the question. Again, we had expected nothing else. In fact, the main purpose of these talks was to win time, while others were in constant contact with the El-Khader villagers.
At the center of the village, it turned out, there were hundreds of Palestinian youths already gathered. They were determined to demonstrate under all circumstances, but would much prefer it if we could find a way to join them. Mixed demonstrations are virtually never answered by the army with the shooting of live bullets, while purely Palestinian actions often are.
Eventually, we piled back into the buses, as if intending to go back home - in fact hoping to get to a certain backpassage into El-Khader which was used on some earlier occasions. No such luck today: the other passage was also tightly blocked, once again a closed military zone which was completely porous to settler traffic.
There was no hope left of joining with the Palestinians. What was left was to register a protest by sitting down on the asphalt and closing the road to settler traffic, and this many of us proceeded to do - Avnery with his white beard, and Gila Svirsky, and Neta Golan with her arm still in a sling in the aftermath of how the demonstration of two weeks ago was dispersed. The police was quick and efficient - waving their batons, dragging people along the hot asphalt, filling up the two police cars which drove off to detention at the police station, located in that very settlement of Ephrat. There was much shouting - "Peace Yes - Occupation no!" "Settlements are Violence!" Those who led the chanting were picked out of the crowd, presumably as "ringleaders", and hauled off to custody. When seven were detained, the rest of us got shoved and pushed into our own buses, with police standing guard to prevent us from either going out or moving off. Then some more negotiations, ending with compromise: one bus with some of the activists would be allowed to move into Ephrat but only to stand outside the police station, in order to pick up the detainees once they are released. The rest of the activists would take the other bus back to Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv.
For some time, we noticed, we had been dealing with the police alone, while all soldiers had disappered. The answer to this riddle was revealed soon enough: they had gone into El-Khader to help put down the villagers' protest. A ringing mobile phone brought the grim news of demonstrators being shot at - four wounded, one of them severely - of a wild chase among the houses of El-Khader ending with the imposition of a curfew over the village.
Nothing further we could do today, except trying to get the news out as widely as possible. It was on both networks of the Israeli radio and the coverage on Second Channel TV was quite good. This message is part of the effort to get it known further.
The struggle for El-Khader is by no means over. The villagers, to judge from what we heard through the phone, are defiant and unbroken. There will be further demonstrations and protests, including a workcamp scheduled to take place between July 1 and 5, an extensive international presence scheduled for August, and all kinds of actions in between.
For direct contact with the organizers: George Rishmawi: 052-281843 email
email@example.com; Huwaida Arraf ph: 052-290173, email
As always on such days, it was a slight shock to get back to the bustling
streets of cultured, cosmopolitan Tel-Aviv, just a bit more than an hour's
drive from that scene of desperate struggle. But then, in the middle of a main
Tel-Aviv street, we noticed a young man in civilian clothes, wearing sunglasses
and a skullcap and carrying an automatic rifle with the practiced ease of a
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As always on such days, it was a slight shock to get back to the bustling streets of cultured, cosmopolitan Tel-Aviv, just a bit more than an hour's drive from that scene of desperate struggle. But then, in the middle of a main Tel-Aviv street, we noticed a young man in civilian clothes, wearing sunglasses and a skullcap and carrying an automatic rifle with the practiced ease of a professional...